Officer, that dog doesn’t have water; arrest that man!


There is a new DOJ document providing advice to law enforcement regarding animal cruelty.

I understand how people view their pets and their belief that all animals should be treated humanely. I concur. If you mistreat animals, you are the lowest form of humanity.

But criminal justice reform prosecutors are not pursuing trespassing, shoplifting and drug possession with intent to distribute and a variety of additional crimes. Where does that leave “lack of adequate shelter” for a dog?


There is a new document from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services of the US Department of Justice focusing on animal abuse, COPS. It’s an interesting read.

The data offers correlations between animal abuse, domestic violence, and serious criminal activity. It lists an array of serial killers who abused animals.


Animal abuse and cruelty are serious and often precursors to other crimes such as assault, domestic violence, and homicide.

Animal abuse is often a window into the home, and awareness of animal abuse may prevent other crimes.

There is a lack of communication between animal control and law enforcement.

There is an awareness and education gap between animal control and law enforcement. Communities care about animal cruelty and often voice this concern to elected officials and community leaders through social media.

Criminal Justice Reform

But we exist in a world of criminal justice reform where advocates insist that we minimize arrests and prosecutions for “minor” crimes.

From the Crime Report: Democrat Rachael Rollins easily beat independent Michael Maloney for the job of Suffolk County district attorney in Boston, reports WBUR. Rollins ran as a progressive, promising the kinds of reforms seen in Chicago’s Cook County and Philadelphia. She listed 15 low-level crimes her office generally wouldn’t prosecute. They include trespassing, shoplifting and drug possession with intent to distribute. There are many others running on similar platforms.

If part of the pledge of reformers is to not prosecute for minor crimes, where does that leave charges of animal cruelty?

Selected Concerns of the COPS Document on Animal Cruelty

Poor body condition or visible trauma.

The animal may be limping or unable to walk normally or have congested eyes or ears.

The animal may be in obvious physical distress and in need of veterinary care.

animal abuse


Lack of food or water. The animal has no obvious sources or food or water.

Lack of adequate shelter. The animal may be contained in an area that is exposed to inclement weather or constant sun or left unattended in a vehicle during warm or hot weather.

dog owners

(Courtesy Roman Forest Police Department Facebook)

Lack of sanitation. Feces or debris covers the animal’s living area.

A dog howling or barking for several hours may be giving a signal that it needs immediate life-saving care.

Caged or tied. The animal is restrained with little room to move or is unable to stand or turn around. This can include regular collars as well.

Part of the Solution?

It’s acknowledged that the justice system can’t be all things to all people. We can’t arrest everyone. We can’t prosecute everyone. We can’t imprison everyone.



This is why there are thousands of arrests that could be made by cops that aren’t. This is why a high percentage of arrests are not prosecuted. All of this was going on before we heard of criminal justice reform.

Yes, obvious animal cruelty should end up in confiscation and arrest. But there will be endless times where the word “obvious” doesn’t apply. Is the dog outside on a cold night criminal? Barking dogs? A dog tied up for hours? That could apply to thousands of cases.

Concurrently, there are police agencies that are madly running from call to call for violent crimes. We are putting officers in schools. Cops are guarding religious institutions. We participate in terrorism and cybercrime task forces. Guess where the barking dog is going to end up on the list of priorities?

No one is saying that animal mistreatment shouldn’t be addressed. No one is suggesting that it shouldn’t be investigated. No one is stating that it shouldn’t be a priority.

But in a world where cops are constantly being told that arrest and prosecutions should be reserved for violent and high-value property crimes, are we sending mixed messages as to what their priorities should be?

Former President Barrack Obama stated that we ask too much of law enforcement. The focus of President Trump is violent crime.

There is a point where we need to understand that cops and the rest of the justice system have limits.

Let’s enforce animal cruelty laws, but let that responsibility fall to the ASPCA or related agencies. Let’s tax fund their operations. Let’s fund advertising campaigns. But stop insisting that cops be all things to all people when it comes to less than obvious cases.

The Crime Report was used as a source for this article.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact me at [email protected]